Thursday, June 25, 2015

SYEP: The Promise of Program Year 2015

With the 2015 Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (MBSYEP) starting on Monday, and with 15,000 District youth set to participate, we’d like to take the opportunity to talk about the program’s big changes this year: an expansion of youth served (now through age 24) and some exciting new strategies to provide extra supports for youth. Last Wednesday, the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs hosted a Public Roundtable on the MBSYEP to call attention to the planning of the 2015 program, especially for the additional 1,000 youth aged 22 to 24 taking part in the program.

Photo credit: Office of Youth Programs' Instagram
Despite the overwhelmingly positive and constructive tenor of the Roundtable, the MBSYEP still struggles to fully shake its association with a troubled past (you might remember a particularly chaotic year marked by cost overruns and warehoused youth). But as the country’s second-largest summer youth employment program (second only to New York’s 36,000 youth served annually), huge strides have been made in righting the course of the program. When fully utilized by employers and youth, the online MBSYEP portal and matching system can be powerful tools for conveying expectations upfront and ensuring a six-week placement that both parties are happy about. The Office of Youth Programs spearheaded the effort to provide free bus and rail travel to youth who frequently cite transportation costs as a barrier to their success. And a new pilot program between DOES, RSA, and DCAYA member SchoolTalk will ensure that SYEP participants with disabilities will be connected with the supports necessary to have a meaningful and productive summer job placement.

Maybe most notably though, DOES spoke of their plans to provide the 1,000 youth 22-24 that are joining the MBSYEP this year with targeted work placements based on an individual assessment that will be given at the start of this year’s program. The assessments will ask youth about their educational attainment, career goals and interests, work readiness skills and any barriers they face to attaining full time employment. Data gleaned from such assessments will allow DOES to connect these older youth to supports beyond their work placements such as childcare, transportation subsidies, and help navigating TANF. Even more exciting (and impressive) DOES has cultivated the support of 120 SYEP host employers that have signaled a willingness to hire participants at the conclusion of the 6-week program.

This connection to long term employment is critical. The unemployment rate for DC residents ages 20-24 stands at 12.3%-- more than double the national rate of unemployment. The figure jumps to 23.2% when calculated for Black or African American residents in the same age range. With such staggering unemployment, particularly among our most traditionally under-resourced youth, it is a critical time to ensure that our city offers an abundance of entry-points into sustainable career pathways. Going beyond its long-standing functions of providing a productive summer activity, and offering supplemental income to youth and their families, the strategies being put in place this year build on best practices that are employed across the country.

With the DC Council’s addition of a requirement to conduct an SYEP evaluation this budget season, our program stands to join the ranks of Boston and New York as a beacon of data-driven decision-making and innovative strategies to meet the needs of the hardest to serve. For example, Boston has been able to demonstrate through the evaluation of their summer employment program that their combination of a paid work experience with quality supervision, a well-designed learning plan, and connections to supportive services can reduce economically disadvantaged youths’ involvement in risky, violent, and delinquent behaviors. Meanwhile, New York City’s SYEP has proven successful at increasing school attendance, graduation rates, and persistence within education and the workforce through a program design that marries job placement with instruction dedicated to education and training through workshops on topics related to time management, financial literacy, workplace readiness and etiquette, career planning and finding employment. While adjusting data collection efforts and systems to be more robust can be a heavy lift for all involved, the narratives they provide about cities like Boston and New York serving their youth efficiently and appropriately are invaluable.

With all of the planning and preparation on the part of host employers and the Office of Youth Programs at DOES coming to a close for this summer’s program, we’re looking forward to a solid 2015 MBSYEP. The program offers one of the greatest opportunities within the District for young people to step into the world of work. Its quality, capacity and, ultimately, its success matter. So as the program kicks off, and the weeks roll by, be sure to share your MBSYEP stories with DCAYA. We want to hear from you what’s working and where to focus for next year!

For more information on DCAYA's Youth Employment work,contact Amy Dudas, DCAYA Policy Analyst.

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